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[LUSAKA] HIV/AIDS is having a worse impact on health workforces in some African countries than the brain drain, according to a researcher writing in today's issue of The Lancet.

Frank Feeley, of Boston University School of Public Health in the United States, says policymakers should focus on keeping health professionals alive instead of trying to limit emigration.

He based his conclusions on research conducted with colleagues in Zambia's Lusaka and Kasama districts.

They calculated that death claimed more nurses and clinical officers (68 per cent) than resignation (23 per cent) or retirement (9 per cent).

The average age at death was 38, suggesting that HIV/AIDS was responsible, rather than diseases of advancing age.

Feeley says that applying the same death rate to all 8,500 public-sector nurses and midwives who were working in Zambia in the year 2000 would produce 298 deaths. This is about double the number (169) of Zambia nurses who applied to work in the United Kingdom in 2003-4.

Feeley told SciDev.Net that African governments must ensure that civil servants with HIV have access to confidential treatment at low or no cost. Special programmes would be needed to reach and treat staff in remote postings, he said.

He adds that if the death rate of Zambian nurses could be cut by 60 per cent, Zambian health institutions would benefit more than they would from a total ban on recruitment to the United Kingdom.

However, the managing director of Zambia’s University Teaching Hospital, Tackson Lambert, disagrees with Feeley's analysis.

“We are losing a lot more health workers through brain drain than AIDS deaths,” he told SciDev.Net. "Countries recruiting our health workers should help us with capacity and resources to help us train more staff."

He added that Zambia has started providing free drugs to all public-sector health workers with HIV/AIDS.

Link to full article in The Lancet*

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